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Working at Proper Intensity—How to Judge Your Effort

It is important to find the right balance between exercising conservatively to prevent injury and exercising consistently progressing to increased strength. This easy-to-use scale will help you determine the proper intensity of your workout.

It's important to adhere to your strength-training regimen as much as you can. You may find that you make a few false starts before you succeed at making this program a regular part of your life. There may be times when interruptions such as vacation, illness, family or work demands conspire to prevent you from doing your exercises for a week or two—or even longer. Try not to feel guilty or disappointed in yourself. Just restart your routine as quickly as you can. You may not be able to pick up exactly where you left off—you may need to decrease your weights a bit. But stay with it, and you will regain lost ground.

If you have trouble getting back into the swing of things, start back into the program slowly. Remember why you started strength training in the first place, why you chose your particular goals. (It may help to reassess your goals and make new ones; as time passes, your motivations may change.) Most important, remember how your past successes made you feel: healthy, strong, independent, and empowered!

Exercise Intensity Indicator

Ask yourself these questions after each exercise.

  1. Were you able to complete two sets of ten repetitions in good form?
    No: Reduce the weight to an amount that you can lift ten times in good form; rest for one or two minutes, then repeat for a second set.
    Yes: Please continue to question two.
  2. After completing ten repetitions, do you need to rest because the weight is too heavy to complete more repetitions in good form?
    Yes: You are working at the proper intensity and should not increase weight.
    No: Please continue to questions three and four to determine how to safely increase the intensity of your workout.
  3. Could you have done a few more repetitions in good form without a break?
    Yes: If you can do only a few more repetitions (not the entire next set of ten without a break), then at your next workout you should do the first set of repetitions with your current weight and your second set with the next weight up. For example, if you're currently using one-pound dumbbells, use two- or three-pound dumbbells for your second set.
  4. Could you have done all twenty repetitions at one time, without a break?
    Yes: At your next session, use heavier dumbbells for both sets of repetitions.

Side Note #1: Remember that you should complete each repetition in proper form, using the "two-up, four-down" count.

Side Note #2: When you start doing the exercises with the adjustable ankle weights, you will be able to increase intensity by adding half- or one-pound weights to each leg.

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 2014 State Indicator Report on Physical Activity cover The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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